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Hypothermia

Q. What is hypothermia?
Hypothermia occurs when your body fails to maintain a normal body temperature. It usually comes on gradually, so people often aren't aware that there's a problem and they may need medical attention. Severe hypothermia will eventually lead to cardiac and respiratory failure, then death. People who are elderly, very young, mentally impaired, intoxicated or who have certain health issues are especially vulnerable.

Q. What are the signs and symptoms?

  • Constant shivering, which, interestingly, is your body's attempt to generate heat through muscle activity
  • Confusion
  • Sleepiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Abnormally slow rate of breathing
  • Cold, pale skin
  • Memory loss

Q. When do you need to seek medical care?
For any person who has been exposed to cold air or water and who is shivering, appears disoriented, shows a lack of coordination, has cold and pale skin, appears tired, and is slurring speech. Try to keep the person warm and dry, preferably indoors or at least out of the wind, until help arrives.

Tips:

  • Limit your exposure to the cold
  • Consume plenty of food and water, and stay active
  • Avoid smoking, tight clothing, and fatigue. These restrict your circulation.
  • Limit alcohol consumption, which affects circulation
  • Wear the following items in cold winter weather:
    • A hat - nearly half of your body heat is lost through your head.
    • A scarf or knit mask that covers your face and mouth
    • Sleeves that fit snuggly at the wrist
    • Several layers of loose-fitting clothing
    • Mittens (they are warmer than gloves)
    • Water-resistant coat and boots
    • Wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers of clothing hold more body heat in than cotton. A tightly woven, wind resistant outer layer will help reduce the loss of body heat due to wind.

People with heart disease or high blood pressure need to be especially cautious because of the strain cold weather puts on the heart.